Why we love our public school

January 27, 2014 · 12 comments

Did you have angst about where to send your child to school?

I did.

I read every article about education I could get my hands on, talked to every Montessori school in a ten-mile radius, considered the Waldorf school twenty miles away, picked the brains of friends whose children attended charter schools or were home schooled, and checked out at least five different homeschooling curricula.

I was about 97% certain my child would not attend the local public school, even though I made sure we bought a house in a good school district. I read the school’s handbook online and wasn’t impressed. It wasn’t progressive about education the way I wanted my son’s school to be. The curriculum, extracurricular activities, and special programs were all traditional. Although some of our neighbors and their children loved it and some didn’t, I was fairly certain it wasn’t the place for us.

Finding an alternative had barriers, though.

I loved the Waldorf school, but annual tuition was about a third of our household income. They said finances shouldn’t be a barrier to submitting an application, but . . . well, I laughed and laughed.  Even homeschooling through our local school district had significant costs associated with purchasing curriculum, collecting supplies, and my own learning curve to become a homeschooling teacher. And the closest charter schools that fit my education ideals was a 15 minute drive. (Not so bad until I multiplied it twice a day, five days a week. Two and a half hours in a car every week, just for school when something closer exists? Hmmmm.)

I talked to a Waldorf teacher to get her thoughts. I was certain she would tell me  to sacrifice whatever I needed to get my children the absolute best education I could, but her answer surprised me.

She asked about our alternative options, and our local school.

I told her it was walking distance, just a few minutes away through the park. The other children in our cul-de-sac and extended neighborhood attend there. I’d heard about the teachers were energetic, enthusiastic, and dedicated to both educating students and fostering a sense of community. And I also told her about the punishments and rewards, the testing, the homework, and the traditional views on “gifted” and “remedial” students.

Almost without hesitation, she said go to the local school.


The lessons learned from being part of a close-knit community, from the responsibility of walking to school, and from being exposed to different kinds of people from different backgrounds would be more valuable than the most progressive school that required us to stress our budget, take us far from home, and make us spend hours a week in the car.

So I enrolled my son in the public school and we attended the orientation. If he didn’t like it, we would homeshool. But he confidently shook the teacher’s hand, walked into the classroom, and told me with certainty this was where he wanted to go to school.

And so it was. He started the local public school. And was sent to the principal’s office twice in the first three weeks for fighting.

I was pretty sure we’d made a huge mistake.

This wasn’t the place for him or our family, with the daily “you tried your hardest” stickers and time outs (and trips to the principal’s office). I wanted to disenroll him  and start homeschooling, but something held me back. We decided to stick it out a few more weeks and see what happened.

It ended up surprising me.

I realized his acting out at school was caused by the conflict of my own dislike for many of the school practices. I realized if I wanted him to succeed, I would have to accept the culture while he was there, even if what we did at home was different. I had to trust he could excel there and retain the life lessons we taught him at home.

Once I backed off, he thrived. He made friends; he sings songs from class. Every day he comes home with a purple ticket (the ticket that says he tried his hardest, according to him). We don’t collect them or provide rewards for them, but he doesn’t mind at all. He wants to earn them. When he received his citizenship award he wouldn’t stop talking about how excited he was for a week. And he does the same when his friends receive theirs.

It still surprises me how well he does. I thought he wouldn’t be happy unless I created the ideal learning environment for him with natural toys and unstructured play. Yet, he excels.

Whether it’s the dedication of the teachers, or the morning walk that clears his head, or the sense of community he has, we were pleasantly surprised that the “mainstream” education ended up being the place we love the most.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Butternut B January 27, 2014

so interesting- and I’m also so glad that this easier (?) solution is working for your family! I would so love to have a little local community- but feel as if being currently childless bars me from that.. another problem all together, the ‘mummy club’ (from England here!)


2 Hillary January 27, 2014

We just put our two boys (6&9) into the local neighborhood public school after homeschooling and went through a very similar experience. There are pros and cons to every option, but one of the worst things about public school was our own ideas about it. Our kids love it (mostly) and the teachers and community is great. So glad your son is happy.


3 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 27, 2014

I’m glad to hear I’m not alone! I had so much anxiety about our public school, but having so many friends who are teachers helped me get over my fears about it. The system isn’t perfect by any means, and there are definitely potential pitfalls, but I feel fairly confident we can navigate them. I’m interested to hear how the transition was for your children.


4 Hillary January 28, 2014

My 9 year old was very excited and very independent about it all. Insisted on walking by himself and wouldn’t let us come upstairs to walk him to his class even though I saw other parents doing the same. Later at the first parent teacher conference the teachers said that they were impressed with his independence compared to that of his peers which I do credit in some part to his homeschooling. He’s not reading at grade level which is the toughest part of the transition. They are making modifications for him and he works with a reading specialist every day and making great progress. He’s just now starting to make friends and still relies on getting together with homeschooling buddies on the weekend for socializing.

My six year old got more of a traditional introduction since he went into kindergarten. It was a *long* day for him at first. He probably could have used the day to be an hour or two shorter and the week a day shorter. But he loves the structure of it all and is very proud of his class, his friends, etc. Loving the independence.

The hardest thing for us is the lack of flexibility. If you are a few minutes late you need a late slip and after a handful of those you get this form letter lecturing you about tardiness. Or I had to travel for a work meeting right before the holidays so I brought the whole family since the destination was right near our family so it made the most sense. They would not approve the absence and so I received two automated phone calls every day for a week telling me my kids had an unexcused absence. Then I got another form letter telling me that by law my kids had to go to school. I know it’s just systematic pitfalls that occur in large systems, but it still irks me. Plus, I think family flexibility is really important.


5 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 28, 2014

This makes me feel fortunate my oldest is in a transitional kindergarten program, which is basically what kindergarten was when I was a kid: half day, play based, and designed to ease children into academic life. And wow — that’s very interesting about the absences. I know our school works with parents for planned absences, including doing independent studies for extended periods. Perhaps my public school is more progressive than I thought!

I’m glad to hear both your children are doing well, though, and that your 9yo is so confident. I hope my kiddos retain that from home even if they spend their entire academic career in traditional public schools :) Thank you for sharing your experience!


6 Regan January 27, 2014

We’ve been going through the same struggle Suchada! Z will start school in the fall, and I think we’ve decided to go the public school route too.. Our options aren’t as expansive as yours ( a waldorf school! <3 ) but the choice was still tough. Hopefully he too shall thrive. I'm most concerned with the long hours. He's still very attached to me. We shall see!


7 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 27, 2014

You know it’s so funny, one of the things we miss most about Ridgecrest is the Montessori school the boys went to. I don’t know if we could have afforded to keep them through grade school, but it had many of the qualities we love about our public school here (walking distance, sense of community, fantastic teachers) plus an educational philosophy that is completely in line with my own. In a setting like that, the hours away seem more bearable for us parents. I’ve seen how much you do to make learning fun, and I bet Z will thrive no matter where he is.


8 Jeronima Carral January 27, 2014

Thank you! This is just what I needed to read. My husband and I love Waldorf but the closest Waldorf school is an hour away ha! And we are considering Montessori but we are not very convinced. It feels good to know Im not alone, thanks!


9 Suchada @ Mama Eve January 27, 2014

I felt Waldorf was my dream education for my kiddos! And I know they would have loved it to. It was so hard to let go of that, because I could picture in my mind how magical their learning journey would be. Both my boys went to a Montessori preschool for about a year, and we loved it. But every Montessori school is different, and the quality (as well as adherence to Montessori principles) varies widely. My younger son now attends a Christian preschool chosen mostly for the same reasons as we decided on the public school (community, convenience, and cost). He loves it. At some point I realized that if we gave them a strong foundation for a love of learning at home, as well as trusting them as people so they have the confidence to do what they need to do to succeed in different setting, they would thrive wherever we put them. So far that has been true. This is something I will definitely revisit in the years to come!


10 Vanessa S. February 10, 2014

We are leaning toward choosing public school for this fall, we just moved last year and the preschool we had chosen for our son (play based co-op) was at a distance that wasn’t working for us, we tried for 2 months and it felt crazy so we are currently homeschooling so it will be good to have your insight on your experience. One of the things I cringe the most is the red, yellow and green light system or time outs, I just don’t want him to think he is “bad” and give up. What did you do or how did you talk with your son about this that made it click for him in a way that he knows he is not bad even if he gets “in trouble”. It most be a hard balance to step back and at the same time advocating when needed, are they open to any type of changes at all? Sorry if my question is too rambly, I am trying to figure this out for us :)
Thank you for sharing your journey


11 Acacia Moore February 21, 2014

Thank you so much for this post! I have been grappling with how I am going to resolve my own angst about public schooling before my oldest son starts 2nd grade this coming fall. There are currently no Waldorf schools in the area where we live so I have Waldorf home schooled him this year but won’t have the option next year (oddly enough because I am now working full time for a LifeWays center/school that is slowly growing a Waldorf grades). Our family budget has thus led us to the option of the neighborhood school and outside of the sense of community I know he will benefit from, it has been quite a challenge for me to begin accepting and becoming content with. I am comforted by your own experience and knowing others are there too! Thanks so much!


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